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Broncos at the bye: Best win, worst loss, top players, what's ahead

Brandon Allen has provided a spark at QB, but rugged schedule follows the break.
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) huddles up teammates prior to an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After starting training camp a week before any other team, after playing five preseason games while 30 other NFL teams played four, after 18 teams already got their bye week in the regular season, the Broncos are finally at rest.

Kick back, guys. Nothing can be done this week about that disappointing 3-6 record. The 0-4 start will no doubt leave the Broncos home for the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.

But at least for the first time in a while, there are signs of progress. The Broncos have won three of their last five games entering their six-day vacation.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights, and lowlights, from the Broncos’ season heading into their bye, and what’s ahead from their final seven games:  

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen (2) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Denver. The Broncos won 24-19.

Best win: 24-19 vs. Browns, Week 9

Eliminate emotion and as a practical matter the Broncos 20-13 victory against the Chargers in Carson, Calif. was the most significant. It was the Broncos’ first win of the season after losing their first four games. It was a division game. It was the game in which head coach Vic Fangio made pivotal defensive insertions of Alexander Johnson at middle linebacker and Mike Purcell at defensive tackle.

But beating the Browns, with a new quarterback in Brandon Allen, energized the Broncos and their community. There’s nothing like winning at home against a young, brash opponent in front of an excited home crowd to boost spirits.

Plus, the win signaled that no matter how difficult this season gets, the players are going to play hard for Fangio.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Denver.

Worst loss: 6-30 vs. the Chiefs, Week 7

There was actually some excitement for this Thursday night game in front of a national audience. The Broncos had won two in a row and were at home against a Chiefs team that had been terrible on defense.

The Chiefs had lost two in a row at their Arrowhead home and were on the road with a gimpy superstar quarterback in Patrick Mahomes II.

Mahomes suffered a dislocated knee early in the second quarter – and the  Broncos still got clobbered. The Chiefs defense had 8 sacks against Broncos’ quarterback Joe Flacco. The Broncos’ offense was putrid after its opening drive. And Kansas City backup quarterback Matt Moore threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill to color a few more shades of Chiefs’ red into the humiliated Broncos.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton scores against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

MVP – Offense: Courtland Sutton

By an eyelash over running back Phillip Lindsay. Sutton has 44 catches – two more than he had all of last year as a rookie – for 692 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s been consistent game-in and game-out and he played big in the two games since receiver partner Emmanuel Sanders was traded away.

Lindsay has 584 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns, plus 160 yards receiving for a team-most 744 yards from scrimmage.

But Sutton gets the edge because he averages 60 offensive plays a game (92%) to Lindsay’s 31.3 plays a game (48%). Sutton has blocked well on several of Lindsay’s nice runs.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons, left, reacts after intercepting a pass intended for Tennessee Titans wide receiver Darius Jennings during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Denver.

MVP – Defense: Justin Simmons

Speaking of snaps, the safety has played all 601 plays on defense. He also is tied for the team lead with 53 tackles – two for losses – and leads the team with 2 interceptions and 9 pass deflections.

Biggest disappointments: Bryce Callahan, Ja'Wuan James

They got huge contracts -- a combined $23.5 million this year -- yet the cornerback Callahan has yet to practice fully much less play in a game because of a recurring foot injury and the right tackle James has played just 32 snaps.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Dalton Risner points to the crowd during an NFL preseason football game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Top rookie: Dalton Risner

Noah Fant may already have the team-rookie record for tight end catches. And the way he’s coming on, Fant may be the Broncos’ top rookie by season’s end.

But a game past the halfway point, Risner gets the nod. Although Risner was a center most of his life and a right tackle in college, the Broncos saw a left guard when they drafted the Wiggins’ product in the second round. He lined up with the first-team offense from his first practice and has generally received the most plaudits from those who observe offensive linemen.

Risner is also an outgoing personality who seems to be building his own army of fans.

Reason for concern post-bye: Schedule strength

Four of the Broncos’ next five games are on the road. Those road opponents are 6-3 Minnesota, 6-2 Buffalo, 6-3 Houston and 6-3 Kansas City.

The Broncos will be decided underdogs in all of them and will need a split to have any chance at finishing 8-8.

Credit: (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL preseason football game, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Reason to pay attention post-bye: Brandon Allen/Drew Lock

It’s not just about Lock, the Broncos’ second-round quarterback who was taken one spot behind Risner. The expectation is Lock will start practicing next week, then serve as Brandon Allen’s backup either against the Chargers in game 12 or Texans in week 13, and start and play in the Broncos’ final two home games against the Lions and Raiders at Empower Field.

Lock has simply missed too much time because of a thumb injury to play much earlier.

Luckily for the Broncos, they have Allen to bridge the gap between Flacco and Lock. Allen played well in his NFL debut against the Browns, and he is line to minimally start the next two games, and possibly the next five.

Win or lose, football fans are intrigued by new, young quarterbacks.

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